MADRID, Spain, November 9 – Cristiano Ronaldo is adamant this season’s La Liga title will once again be a tale of two teams, despite his Real Madrid side sitting in third position, eight points behind leaders Barcelona and five from Atletico Madrid.
“I’m sure it will be just the two of us, I don’t want to rule out anyone else, but I think it will be between us and Barca again,” he said.
“I don’t remember in the last ten years a rivalry like the one we have, it’s good for the game.
“Football fans are enjoying something unique, players from the past say that this league is harder than ever so I think the Spanish league is the best in the world right now, with the best two teams and the best players.” he told CNN.
On Sunday, Madrid face a tough trip to Levante as they attempt to close the gap on Barca, who must quickly recover from the midweek Champions League defeat at Celtic with an away game at Mallorca.
Levante has proven to be a difficult place for Madrid in recent seasons, having lost 1-0 last term after a 0-0 draw there in 2010.
And Ronaldo may be asked to play as the lone striker as Jose Mourinho’s side go into the game with key strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema definitely out.
Higuain limped from Madrid’s Champions League draw with Borussia Dortmund at half-time last Tuesday, shifting the focus of his side’s injury problems from defence to attack.
Players in contention for a rare start in attacking positions for ‘los blancos’ are Jose Callejon, who impressed as a second-half substitute against Borussia, and reserve team striker Alvaro Morata.
Portuguese full-back Fabio Coentrao is back in training and could play some part after a long absence.
Spain international Gerard Pique may start for Barca after seven weeks out with an ankle injury.
The centre-half played the final 20 minutes in Glasgow on Wednesday and with defensive partner Carles Puyol also a long term casualty, it would be a welcome boost to a side that has conceded an uncustomary amount of goals in his absence.
Barca have shipped 14 goals in 11 games, despite only one loss at Celtic, since Pique had to leave the pitch against Spartak Moscow in mid-Septmeber.
Coach Tito Vilanova is looking to steadily improve all aspects of his defence after suffering further injuries to defenders Adriano, Dani Alves and Jordi Alba since the season began.
Barca’s opponents, Mallorca, were thrashed 5-0 by Madrid in their own stadium a fortnight ago and have now lost five straight league games since their promising start to the season.
Atletico, the side sandwiched between the two giants, face a home derby on Sunday with Getafe.
Coach Diego Simeone will look for his side to bounce back after two defeats this week, with last Saturday’s 2-0 reverse at Valencia coming after 13 straight wins.
Almost certain qualification from the group stage of the Europa League means Atletico have turned full attention to their push at the summit of La Liga.
They travelled to Academica Coimbra on Thursday for a Europa League clash, a game they lost 2-0, without key players Radamel Falcao, Joao Miranda, Arda Turan, Diego Godin, Cristian Rodriguez, Juanfran and Gabi Fernandez.
All should be available for Sunday’s clash as ‘los colchoneros’ attempt to prove Ronaldo wrong and fight it out at the top of the table.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Betis v Granada (2030)
Rayo Vallecano v Celta (1500), Espanyol v Osasuna (1700), Zaragoza v Deportivo (1900), Malaga v Real Sociedad Barcelona (2100)